GEORGIANA, AL (WSFA) - It was news the town of Georgiana didn’t want to hear. The community is already feeling the effects of empty storefronts downtown. Now, residents are losing their hospital, one of just two in Butler County.
Officials with Ivy Creek of Butler, the owners of Georgiana Medical Center, confirmed Monday the facility would close after more than 60 years of service.
It hadn’t come as a surprise. Rumors had been trickling throughout the small town. Until Monday, they were just rumors. Now, with notice from Ivy Creek of Butler CEO Michael Bruce, it’s official.
“We’re here to announce a sad day in Georgiana...” he stated at a Tuesday morning news conference.
The closure will leave around 50 people without a job.
The official last day is March 31, time to allow for the facility to wind down its operations.
Georgiana hospital officials blame the rising cost of healthcare and cuts to reimbursements as primary factors behind the closure. Bruce said the slow decline started about 10 years ago culminating in the loss of millions of dollars in recent years.
GMC isn’t the first hospital to close. It’s now the seventh in rural Alabama and the thirteenth overall for the state since 2011.
Many other rural hospitals - an estimated 88 percent according to the Alabama Hospital Association - are hemorrhaging money with reimbursements failing to cover the cost of patient care.
Jerome Antone serves as Georgiana’s mayor. He admitted to understanding the reasons behind the facility’s demise, but it doesn’t make the challenge to revive the railroad town any easier.
“I understand their side of the story, but I also feel for the citizens as well," Antone said. "It’s going to be a great challenge and the one thing citizens must realize is this didn’t happen overnight. This has been in the making for 30 years.”
Gov. Kay Ivey’s office said she didn’t have a statement to release regarding the closure.
Alabama’s junior U.S. Senator, Democrat Doug Jones, did, however.
“For years, our rural hospitals have been warning public officials about the financial cliff they faced in large part as a result of unfair Medicare reimbursement rates and the refusal to expand Medicaid in Alabama. Thirteen hospitals have closed in our state since 2011. Seven of those have been in rural areas. How many more rural health care providers need to close for meaningful action to be taken? This should be a wake-up call – actually, another wake up call. We all have a responsibility to take action – to expand Medicaid, to fight for wage index reform, to find opportunities to lower the cost of health care – and to find common ground to best serve our communities."
With Georgiana Medical Center’s closure, Butler County residents will have just a single facility - LV Stabler Hospital in Greenville - remaining to provide services. Bruce said details are being worked out to create an arrangement with Stabler to streamline services to serve the entire county.